Monday 11 December 2017

The Kerry Tempo: Taking it easy in Killarney

Short breaks in Ireland

Lough Leane — the biggest of Killarney National Park’s three lakes — is home to the isle of Inisfallen where St Finian founded his monastery
Lough Leane — the biggest of Killarney National Park’s three lakes — is home to the isle of Inisfallen where St Finian founded his monastery
Madeleine on Lough Leane
Madeleine Keane

Madeleine Keane

Madeleine Keane checks into Muckross Park Hotel for a relaxing trip to the Kingdom.

The best laid plans of mice and Madeleine came spectacularly unstuck last Friday when I awoke to the dulcet tones of Rachael English informing the country that the transport network had been paralysed by a series of wildcat strikes.

The day before, dreading the thought of a long drive in bad conditions (an ominous forecast had been flagged) I booked return train tickets to Killarney.

But now Plan B had to be implemented and thus, two hours later, I found myself comfortably ensconced in a Mini Cooper convertible, my poet friend Christina at the wheel as we headed, Thelma-and-Louise-style, on our hastily improvised road trip to the Kingdom.

As it happened it couldn't have worked out better.

Apart from a couple of dramatic downpours, the drive was great - roof down, hair flying in the wind, listening to Dusty Springfield belting out Son of a Preacher Man.

Muckross Park Hotel
Muckross Park Hotel

A replenishing lunch of celeriac soup and salmon tartare sandwiches in the Dunraven Arms took the sting out of the tailbacks in the picture postcard village of Adare and it seemed like no time before we were pulling up at our weekend billet, the Muckross Park Hotel and Spa, set in the magical heart of Killarney's 25,000 acre National Park.

The handsome man aligning the plants outside not only parked our car and took care of our luggage, but also presented us with hot lemongrass (the hotel's signature scent) infused towels (a civilised gesture), before escorting us to our room, an elegant suite with two balconies, requisite Nespresso machine, the crispest of Irish bedlinen and an underfloor-heated bathroom the size of a spaceship, stocked with Orla Kiely toiletries.

Despite the fun of our journey, we were stiff after hours in the Mini and could virtually hear the Vitality Spa calling to us; in fact it was celebrating its 10th birthday that very evening.

No expense has been spared on this emporium of health and beauty: bubbling beds of jets in a large hydrotherapy pool soothed our tired muscles, and the pleasing ambience created with navy mosaic tiling, classical statuary, a plethora of plants, and large windows looking on to verdant foliage helped wind our minds down from Dublin speed to an infinitely more relaxing Kerry tempo.

After a stint using the herbal sauna, steam room, tropical rain shower and heated loungers we decamped to the outdoor Canadian-style hot tub, which was surrounded by willows weeping into the nearby river and glossy camellia bushes. As soft rain fell on our faces, we understood how it merited its award for Best Luxury Spa in Ireland in 2014.

The next day, after another spa dip, I enjoyed a first-class body massage: I felt completely zonked afterwards - always a good sign.

Madeleine on Lough Leane
Madeleine on Lough Leane

The hotel has also won awards for its cuisine, and we had a great lunch of potted crab with sourdough toast in the Jarvey's Rest, named for the jaunting car drivers who would stop here before setting off for the next Ring of Kerry highlight, Kenmare.

Starting life in 1795, this was the first hostelry in the area and was visited by such august personages as Queen Victoria and George Bernard Shaw: it is said he wrote part of Pygmalion here. Richly deserving its five-star designation, Muckross Park owes much of its expansion and development to entrepreneurs Bill Cullen and Jackie Lavin who owned it from the early 1990s, adding bedrooms and the spa, up until 2013 when the Irish hospitality investment company iNua bought it.

I've always liked the atmosphere of Killarney and on a bright April morning it was it its best. After coffee in the Petit Delice, a charming French patisserie run by a family from La Rochelle, I secured a table at Gaby's Seafood Restaurant where later we would enjoy an excellent dinner of deep-fried Brie, scallops and prawns tagliatelle.

En route back to Muckross Park Hotel we stumbled across the Blue Pool, a small but impressive gallery of ceramics, and chatted to artist Mary Neeson before buying a couple of her exquisite delicate pieces.

Serendipitously, Sunday dawned with sapphire skies as we headed to nearby Ross Castle and a boat trip on Lough Leane. Otherwise known as the lake of learning and the biggest of Killarney National Park's three lakes, it is home to the isle of Inisfallen where St Finian the Leper founded a monastery, and monks prayed and lived for nearly a century.

On this isolated outcrop, over a period of 300 years, before they were dispossessed of the island in 1594 by Queen Elizabeth the First, the monks also wrote the Annals of Inisfallen which chronicle early Irish history and are now housed in Oxford's Bodleian Library.

Our boatman Charlie and his cute Pomeranian Bella, deposited us on the island where we spent a peaceful half-hour wandering through the ruins of the oratory, observing a brace of tame Sika deer and sunning ourselves on slabs of limestone, listening to the lake water lapping on the shore: a very appealing place to visit for a picnic in summer time.

As is nearby Muckross House, Gardens and Traditional Farms. The 18th century house has a sublime setting overlooking the lake but we opted to tour their development of three different-sized working farms, labourer's cottage, blacksmith's forge, saddlery and schoolhouse.

The whole project has been intelligently conceived and executed, complete with hens, horses and the bean an ti making soda bread over a turf fire. It is evident historians have been consulted on every detail, from the chipped Child of Prague statues and lumpy horsehair mattresses, to the original hay rakes and swath-turners.

It's a fantastic project, but time was marching on so we said slan to the Kingdom and started for home, only stopping at Birdhill for plates of tempura battered scampi and chips at Matt the Thresher's, arriving back to Dublin as the light started to fall and the setting sun at our backs melted golden into the west.

Getting there

Spring into Summer offer

Journey to the heart of Killarney National Park and enjoy a Deluxe escape with breakfast.

Enjoy complimentary access to The Spa at Muckross and receive €20 spa credit.

Rate from €80 per person.

Stay two nights, Sunday to Thursday, and receive a free upgrade to a Superior bedroom with wine and chocolates on arrival.

Offer valid from April 23-June 22, 2017.

Subject to availability.

Summer apartment offer

Stay three nights with your family or friends in self-catering apartments and enjoy a summer break in Killarney National Park.

Adults guests have access to The Spa at Muckross.

Rate from €500.

Free bike hire is available for all the family.

Only three miles from Killarney town centre, each two-bedroom apartment is suitable for up to five guests.

Apartments are complete with ensuite bedrooms, kitchen, living and dining area.

Free wi-fi and car parking.

Subject to availability.

Website: www.muckrosspark.com

Contact: reservations@muckrosspark.com or 064 6623400

Sunday Independent

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